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Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!


Entries in Overheads (5)


Backboard Decathlon: Supplement to ROG initiative 

As a lot of you may already know, the USTA has instituted new rules for 10 and Under tennis competition. The R(ed) O(range) G(green) ("ROG") initiative is intended to make tennis more kid-friendly and assist with the long-term development process. You can read more about the new rules here. In the alternative, we recommend that you access the relevant information on the USTA's own website or check out websites such as Parentingaces.com which routinely discuss the changes in rules and their effects. 

Although CAtennis.com takes no position regarding the ROG initiative, we believe that the underlying philosophy is sound: kids + repetition = more, better players -> more Grand Slam contenders. In this regard, we believe that it would be appropriate for U10 tournament organizer to consider expanding their horizons a bit and going beyond the four corners of the tennis court to not only get kids hooked on the sport but also hooked on the process of mastering the game.

Here is what we have in mind: supplementing every U10 tennis event with a backboard "decathlon". A lot of tennis clubs have backboards within their facilities. Some of these backboards are purely for tennis players while others are in the form of racquetball or handball courts. Many of these backboards are underused - particularly by tennis players - for months at a time. Yet, they are one of the best and cheapest training tools available. Many great champions - from Bjorn Borg to Pete Sampras - honed their strokes by practicing against backboards, walls or garage doors. Why is backboard training so effective? In one word: myelination. Briefly, myelin assists humans in our learning process. When people learn a new skill, myelin levels increase between the relevant neuron connection. This, in turn, allows signals to travel faster between the areas of the brain involved in the activity. So, for example, when you're first starting out with tennis you can find yourself a bit overwhelmed by all the concepts: 1. footwork; 2. grip; 3. preparation; 4. swing; 5. follow-through; etc. However, with practice, these movements become more and more ingrained (or "grooved"). The gross and fine motor skills associated with the stroke (as well as related muscles) become sharpened. Accordingly, some of the concepts may be internalized or become wholly unconscious. Your brain simply understands the various adjustments that have to be made with respect to each particular shot. 

This unconcious (or partially conscious) understanding allows the player to think about other things besides the the stroke itself such as where to hit the ball (and, perhaps, the following shot). In other words, a player who has achieved this level seems to have "more time" to hit the ball than a beginner. Of course, an expert and a beginner may have the same amount of time at their disposal although the beginner's brain is muddled with more basic concepts than an expert's brain ("paralysis by analysis"). Thus,  the beginner's brain has to fit more computations - speed, trajectory, spin, etc. - in the same finite amount of time - which often results in a mistake. An expert doesn't need to think about the basic concepts as much because, for him, these concepts have been automated. Accordingly, the expert can marshall her brain's assets towards other tasks (e.g., strategy).

Now, the foregoing is a round-about way of saying that repetition is good. The more kids repeat strokes, the more automatic the strokes become. The sooner kids master technique the earlier they can move on to the next level. The benefit of using the backboard in the development process is that the player has the opportunity to hit thousands of balls within 1 or 2 hours v. hundreds (lessons, clinic or match). It's not uncommon to see kids participating in clinics where they are simply standing around and not hitting any balls at all.

The wall doesn't miss, doesn't mishit and doesn't generate pace. Kids learn very early which strokes are good for getting the ball to go forward and which strokes send the balls all over the place. In addition, kids can push themselves to focus on keeping the rally going for longer and longer thereby improving their attention span (which is beneficial in tennis as well as in life). Furthermore, backboard practice is great for developing one's imagination; players can pretend that they are playing against their heros on TV. Isn't that what "playing" is all about?! So wouldn't it be productive if every U10 tournament included a backboard component?! Kids could not only play against each other in a tennis format but could also compete against each other in a more "artificial" setting (although one that's likely to pay more long-term dividends). For example, each tournament could have a main draw, a back draw and a backboard draw. Prizes could be awarded for each category and, knowing this, kids would be more inclned to practice against the backboard (making them better players and more mentally tough competitors). Several back-board games could be incorporated in a "Backboard Decathlon" where boys and girls could compete against each other. Here are some suggestions:

1. Most consecutive groundstrokes without a mistake. To count, the ball must bounce behind a 12' line (for younger kids) or 18' line (older kids). The depth rule ensures that the kids hit proper, penetrating shots. 

2. Most groundstrokes in a 5 minute period (same depth dimensions as above). Maximum of 3 mistakes allowed. This game is great for having the kids' shots are not only strong but also fast. 

3. Most volleys without a mistake. Kids can stay 4' (younger kids) or 6' (older kids) from backboard to ensure that they are "sticking" / punching the shot with power and precision. 

4. Point construction. Tournamen director dictates a point (e.g, serve, forehand, backhand topsin, backhand slice, forehand approach, forehand volley, backhand volley, overhead, etc.) that the competitors have to follow. The ones who do not follow it, are knocked out; the ones who follow the point move on to the next round (where a different, more complex point is constructed). 

5. Target practice. Targets are put on the wall and the players are given 5 minutes to hit the maximum number of targets with their groundstrokes. Maximum of 3 mistakes allowed. 

6. Knock-out. Groups of 4-5 kids are playing a point (hit and get out of the way). The player who misses or doesn't get to the ball is knocked out and the other kids continue on until only one player is remaining. We can attest that this game is a lot of fun. 

7. Most overheads in a 5 minute interval. 

8. Singles. Players compete against each other in a racquet ball-type format in a game up to 11. 

9. Doubles. Same as #8 above except that 2 teams consisting of 2 players each compete against each other. Players on each team must aternate shots. 

10. Most side-to-side volleys in a 3 minute period (i.e., "The Cara Black" drill)

We urge all junior tournament directors to inject some additional fun in their events and let us know how it works. If you are truly interested in growing the game, thinking outside the box is imperative. By incorporating a backboard component in your tournament you will be on the front lines of development. Your players will develop better strokes, better focus, better hand to eye coordination, more stamina, a better work ethic, greater imagination by competing against their imaginary heros ("All men who have achieved great things have been great dreamers" - O. S. Marden) as well as a better understanding of court geometry. Furthermore, they will associate not only tournaments but also practices (specifically on their own) with a fun experience. 


Steal This Drill: Aggressive Doubles

This drill comes to us from Mr. Frercks Hartwig who is currently associated as a tennis coach and player devepoler at TMS - Die mobile Tennisschule in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.

Thank you, Mr. Hartwig, for submitting this drill to CAtennis.com. We hope that all of you take the time to incorporate it into your tennis development process. The drill is as follows:

1. Draw a line about 1meter (3ft inside each baseline).

2. While the ball is in play, the doubles-players may not over-step this line.

3. The players are encouraged to take the ball early - either off a half-volley, regular volley or swinging volley.

4. The coach alternates feeds from A to B and points are played up 12. Feeds are to be mixed in terms of height, depth, pace and spin in order to put the receivers in the position to make a variety of adjustments [Editor's Note: there may or might not be "re-dos" for missed feeds; coach's choice depending on the level of the players]

5. Immediately after the feed, both teams proceed to move in and engage in a volley-volley exchange. By being forced to move in, the "volley-shy" players learn that it's more effective to win points at the net than at baseline.

6. This drill can also be performed by either (a) having the A-B team hit a groundstroke first; (b) having the teams sprint in from behind the baseline at the same time or (c) by moving the "artificial" baseline forwards or backwards to take into account the skills of the players.

For a similar singles drill, see here. If you would like to share any drill ideas or practical suggestions for improving the game, please email us at catenniseditor@gmail.com or contact us on Facebook. As always, if you like the information, please pass it along to anyone who may be interested.


Fun Backboard Training: Overhead Smashes

Becoming a great tennis player can be a lonely endeavour, often times with nobody to practice with. One way to spice up your serving/overhead practice is to utilize the wall (check out the diagram above). Start with gently tapping your smashes against the wall, then graduate to further distances away from the wall.

One tip to keep in mind is to hold the racquet extremely loose. Hit the ball gently, with feel. See if you can hit smash after smash without having to move too much from your original position. Can you control the ball. Rookie players will grip the racquet too tight and just "gun" the overhead with no sense of feel or direction. The best players do not take full cuts at the overheads (sure they can if they want to), but they understand the aspect of placement. This type of hitting against the wall simulates your warmup or match overheads, trying to hit it down into the court (as if you were aiming for inside the service line).


Steal This Drill: Overhead Game

Here's a fun way to work on your volleys and overheads - two shots that are not practiced nearly enough by today's juniors. To recap prior articles, if you don't work on your net- or mid-court game you will forever be relegated to the baseline. As a baseliner you better be fit, fast and consistent. Otherwise, someone with a more aggressive gamestyle will chop you up. Develop this dimension of your game and you might just be able to take your opponent by surprise. We're going for the Navy Seals mentality - you gotta have the right tool, the right training and the right tactics for the job. Even if you are a "pure" baseliner, it's always best to have some additional arrows in your quiver. 

So, next time, instead of your basic overhead and volley practice try this game: Player "A" is at the net (red X); player "B" is at the baseline in the deuce side of the court. Although player "B" can hit winners (whole court); player "A" cannot hit volley winners (i.e., it must hit volleys back to player "B" - red line). However, when player "B" lobs (purple line), player "A" can smash an overhead winner (i.e., yellow line) into the open court (i.e., player "A" MUST change direction with the overhead and hit to the ad side of the court) - unless player "B" gets there and the play continues on that half of the court. The baseline player is encouraged to hit 2-3 groundstrokes for the net player to volley before throwing up a lob (or make it a rule that the 3rd or 4th shot must be a lob). Then, s/he has to rush and cover the open court. For player "A", this is great practice because he has to stay steady with the volleys and hit them shots in such a way that the baseline player cannot beat him. Furthermore, the net player only has one chance - the overhead - to put the ball away. As the players get better and better, they become more adept at both lobbing as well as hammering home the the tough overheads. Furthermore, the net player becomes good at reading body language - making him a better player from the net as well as the baseline.  

Please let us know if you have any questions about this drill or if you have any suggestions for practicing specific tactics. 



Proper Placement on Warmup Overheads or Injure Groin


There is an art to warming up the overhead. It takes skill, precision, dancing on the toes, and rhythm. When I am warming up with my practice partner or opponent, the overhead can be a great indicator of the level of player I am about to face. As like other strokes in the warmup, you are always trying to gather as much information from your opponent. Unlike other strokes, the overhead can quickly tell you a bigger chunk of the story and the truth about your opponent.


If you are returning someone's overhead and it is landing all over court, darting in 10 different location off of 10 different feeds, be careful. I really mean it, be careful. You can easily criss-cross your knees and involuntarily tweak a groin before the match even begins. Here are some simple signs of a poor overhead in warmup:

1) The ball is struck too hard. Veteran players do not hit overheads hard. In fact, they hit them very slow and relaxed. Trying to get a feel for the ball and swing. It's called a warmup. Plus, if you hit the ball too hard, how is your opponent going to bump the ball back? It takes two to warm-up your overhead.

2) You are warming up your volleys from seven feet behind the baseline. Think about that again, you (the lob feeder) are hitting balls out of the air to give them another overhead. Great way to break your knees in the warmup.

3) The overheader is making you run from side to side and up and back. Overheads should be hit within a reasonable 5 feet radius of the returner. All overheads should land at the service line. No exceptions!

4) The overheader needs more than 10 overheads to warm-up. If they can't feel good by 7, they are already considered a rookie.

5) The bounce off the ground should be a closer to 90 degrees than 0. You (the lob feeder) should be tapping lobs back from around your shoulder area, not your knee caps. Lobs made from knees or ankles are terrible overheads because they landed on the baseline. From a consistency point of view, this is too risky in a match.

Watch top junior boys, college players, or professionals warmup overheads. There is an art to a proper overhead. Now if you want to break some knees and injure your opponent's groin- keep swinging for the fences in 10 random locations.